Bela Avroutina, MD, RN
It's estimated that some five million Canadian women have now reached menopause. We know it's a completely natural biological transition when women's ovaries begin to produce less estrogen and progesterone.
It's estimated that some five million Canadian women have now reached menopause. We know it's a completely natural biological transition when women's ovaries begin to produce less estrogen and progesterone. But the "change" can cause a variety of reactions in women because hormones regulate many bodily functions, including our temperature, sleep patterns and moods. Scientific studies prove that along with a whole-food, plant-based diet and lifestyle, consuming the right supplements and herbs will balance hormone fluctuations.
First of all, dietary changes help to bring about a pH body balance for normalized hormones: eliminate red, processed and organ meats, skin of fowl, fried foods, pasteurized dairy products, alcohol, refined sugar, spicy food and common salt. Instead, concentrate on an alkaline diet primarily of plant foods lots of vegetables and fruit, beans and lentils, whole grains, raw nuts, sea fish at least three times a week (good for iodine) and lots of clean water.
After you've corrected your nutritional intake by your choice of food, choose supplements wisely.
Balancing Estrogen and Progesterone
Phytoestrogens are plant versions of the human hormone estrogen. They're considered to be weak estrogenic compounds with an average of about two per cent of the strength of estrogens. They can be beneficial when estrogen levels are either too high or too low. When metabolized, they bind on the same cellular sites as do estrogens, altering estrogenic effects.
Phytoestrogens known as isoflavones reduce the risk of breast, bowel and lung cancer. The isoflavones daidzein and genistein have been found to improve bone strength and density. Other isoflavones with varying degrees of phytoestrogenic activity include glycetein, biochain, phytosterols, saponins and ligands.
The best food sources of daidzein and genistein are non-genetically engineered soybeans and clover. Soy products should be used with discrimination and moderation. Not all soy foods contain soy isoflavones. When crushed, defatted soy flakes are washed in alcohol during the production of soy burgers, soy cheeses, soy milks and some soy powder mixes and isoflavones are destroyed! If soy protein powders are produced by water-washing the soy flakes, a much higher isoflavone level is retained. Daidzein and genistein are also present in black beans and alfalfa. As research continues, isoflavones will likely be found in other whole foods.
Herbs for Menopause
Black cohosh and raspberry are phytoestrogens and help regulate luteinizing hormone which fluctuates during menopause. They also relieve hot flashes, have a calming effect on the nervous system and regulate sleep patterns.
Flax seed is the richest whole-grain source of a class of phytoestrogens called lignans. It reduces cholesterol levels, normalizes blood pressure and shows anti-tumour activity. It increases metabolism and boosts the immune system.
Dong quai (also known as angelica) helps relieve hot flashes, vaginal dryness and is traditionally used as a uterine tonic in Chinese medicine.
Red clover blossom contains phytoestrogens similar to soy and helps detoxify the liver (essential for hormonal balance). Clover also enhances the immune system.
Licorice is another source of phytoestrogens. It promotes adrenal function (adrenals are the key glands responsible for producing estrogen after menopause and are involved in maintaining emotional stability and a sense of well being).
St John's wort and valerian promote sleep and have a calming effect on the nervous system for most people.
Milk thistle seed, dandelion and alfalfa are nature's detoxifiers and are good for the liver. Alfalfa is one of nature's most nutritious green plants, containing a high level of minerals, proteins and enzymes. It's an excellent diuretic.
Siberian ginseng normalizes estrogen levels but don't use it if there is a history of high blood pressure. It helps
with depression, increases mental performance and postpones old-age symptoms.
Seaweeds like kelp are an excellent source of calcium and iodine, which is important for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. Alfalfa, lecithin, soy, vitamin C, zinc, B-complex, vitamin E with selenium and calcium/ magnesium are all important for the thyroid. Seaweed can also prevent heart disease.
The "change" of life should be a positive joyful experience, liberating women from monthly menstruation and fear of pregnancy. And it can be, with proper dietary choices.
A healthy lifestyle includes regular physical activity. Exercise is an antidepressant, stress reliever, fat burner and bone stimulator. Learn stress management techniques and take time out for walking, relaxation and massage. Laugh, love and feed yourself with positive thoughts. You'll support your hormones and immune system and diminish menopause symptoms.
Women with balanced, healthy hormone systems (especially ovaries, adrenals, thyroid, pituitary and liver) free of toxins do not experience menopause problems. Research shows that 60 per cent of menopausal women have low thyroid function.
Balance Hormones Naturally
In the past few years, menopause has been "treated" by doctors with hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Estrogen is pushed by the medical and pharmaceutical industries as the primary missing ingredient for menopausal women and for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
However, in 1998 the results of the second largest study on HRT indicated that it increases the risk of heart disease as well as breast cancer, osteoporosis and gall bladder disease. According to John Lee, MD, HRT also causes a variety of side-effects, some of which are drowsiness, depression, headaches, fluid retention, weight gain, decreased sex drive, reduced thyroid performance, liver dysfunction, rise in blood pressure, and loss of scalp hair.
Restoring proper progesterone levels will restore hormone balance and counter undesirable effects of excess estrogen, explains Lee in What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause. But not all progesterone is the same.
Pharmaceutically patented synthetic progesterone analogs called progestins don't work the same in the human body as natural progesterone. Natural progesterone made from the wild yam is better. The sterol disogenin (Diocorea) is abundant in a variety of tropical wild yams and is converted into the same molecule as human progesterone.